Perhaps it was when the boy stole the ball from you during your first soccer game, and you stopped in your tracks and cried. I wondered if you had any fire in you—the fire to chase down that boy and reclaim the ball that was previously yours. I wondered if this soft behavior of yours was there to stay—forever imprinted in your DNA. So athletically gifted, but incomplete.
Such thoughts actually did pass through my mind. You were only four years old, and yet how easily I found myself concerned for you. There you were, the one player who dominated in practice. The one player whose skill came so naturally, as if you never needed to be taught the game, because the game seemed innately wired within you.
But when the boy took the ball and dribbled downfield to score for his team, you found it to be so unfair. It had never happened to you in practice. So, as you stood on the field and cried, I stood on the sidelines, feeling sympathetic, but also wondering if you were going to be one of those kids who lacked aggression to fight back—a pure athlete, but unable to dig deep.
That was 17 years ago, and to this day I still shake my head when I think about the concern I had for you. I was worried about your lack of tenacity, as if some strange virus had stricken you, and the antidote to cure it was never to be found.
Luckily for me, though, I came to my senses, and my irrational concern for you soon evaporated. And the reason for that?
I threw you up in the air as high as I could…and let you fall.
* * *
I let you fall and did nothing to soften your landing. I just stood there and let the forces of gravity prove that escaping the earth unassisted is no easy task. But the environment was safe–a swimming pool. As you hit the water’s surface, I remember thinking what an incredible place and time it was to be with you. You showed no inhibitions, but simply kept urging me to throw you higher and higher with each successive launch. I’d grab you by the armpits and say, “Ready?…One…two…three!!” Your eyes would widen like your smile, and up you’d soar, as high as my tiring arms could possibly throw you.
You were truly fearless. I began to sense that the day would come—however long it might take—that you would trust in yourself and discover your fire. Aggression can be demonstrated, but the drive to be aggressive must come from within.
And so, here you are, on your 21st birthday, and you must be wondering: Just what does all of this aggression talk have to do with my 21st birthday?
It has everything to do with it. It illustrates just how important it is to understand someone and not make knee-jerk reactions. A boy stole your soccer ball. You didn’t go after him. I worried you wouldn’t discover your fire. I was missing the bigger picture of you—the magic of you. I had to give you a chance, embrace your character, marvel at your wonders, and then let you grow.
So, welcome to the relationship part of this story which is truly what I’m writing about. It just took a little off-road path to get here. And I can’t think of a better place to illustrate how we relate, than the time you were wearing a hospital gown.
* * *
You were prepped, all ready for surgery to repair your torn meniscus. The nurse told me it was time to give you a kiss on the forehead and tell you that I love you.
We looked at each other with the same expression, as if we had just witnessed something horribly disgusting. That unmistakable look of “Ewwwww!!”
A forehead kiss?? I love you?? Seriously?? Did this nurse have any clue whatsoever of just who we were? Apparently not!
We related to each other homie-style. “Wha’ dup dog!…Wha dit b?” I gave you a three-part hand shake as if it came straight off the street. It ended with an exploding fist-bump before I gave you my parting words: “Peace out.”
“We’re different,” you told the nurse, “Not your typical father-daughter relationship, but it’s how we roll.”
And it truly was how we rolled. In fact, we rolled like that for years. It was just something that evolved and stuck. We were very comfortable with it being our way to express a tight relationship. And, quite honestly, it worked. It fit us perfectly. It was easy, as it blended in with your friends who came over to the house. It was, without a doubt, free-form, never uncomfortable, and cool.
Yes, for years we rolled like that, but then something began to change: You entered college and became more mature, confident, responsible, and insightful. By this time, you had easily acquired the competitive fire within you. Chasing down a player who might steal the basketball was no longer an issue. Fighting for a loose ball on the floor was now second nature. You were complete. You had arrived. But, as a parent, there was one thing that was lacking. And it took a third-party to open my eyes.
* * *
“You never hug her, do you?” A client of mine once asked. She was well aware of you, as she had followed your four years of high school basketball.
“Oh, we hug once in a while,” I said.
“Once in a while? Are you serious? That hardly qualifies as hugging”
“Ok, so we’re not huggers. Our relationship just never grew that way. We’ve always just kind of hung out. You know…fist bumps and stuff.”
I’ll never forget that day. I had been training her in the gym when she suddenly stopped her exercise, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Let me tell you something. The last thing you ever want is regret. It’s the last thing. And the day something tragic happens to that girl…and I mean tragic…that’ll be the most regretful day of your life, and you’ll have to wake up every day thereafter, knowing you missed out. Knowing that you never hugged her.”
“But,” I said, “how we interact is our way of hugging.”
She paused and looked at me hard in the eyes, “Trust me, Ros, you’ll regret it.”
How many times have I caught myself reflecting on her words of warning? How many times have I been going about my day and couldn’t avoid acknowledging the truth in her wisdom? And the more I thought about it, and observed it, the more I began to notice the closer connection that existed between a parent and his or her child, all because of a hug. It does speak volumes.
When I look back on the chronology of how we’ve connected, I don’t have any regrets that a comfortable hug took nearly 18 years to arrive. I hugged you as a younger child plenty of times, nearly every day. But as you got older, and for whatever reason, the way that we showed appreciation or connection evolved into fist bumps, high fives, and two-finger peace signs. And let’s face it, even flipping each other the bird wasn’t an unusual hello or goodbye, as we always got a laugh understanding the spontaneous and subtle humor.
* * *
You’re 21 years old today, and how proud and privileged I am to say that you’re my daughter. Of course, you’ll always have the attributes that I cherish most: a sick sense of humor, million dollar dares, the ability to cuss like a sailor, a damn fine three-point shooter, a love for homemade milkshakes, and a sneaky way of talking me into writing a college essay or two (you must’ve learned that one from your sister).
And then there’s the hug after a basketball game, or when you leave to head back to school. It completes everything. It keeps things connected like never before. It’s the glue that keeps on binding.
Of course, I’m not about to part ways with old customs. With that said….
I love you & peace out,
Copyright Ros Hill, 2018